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A retrospective on the Bayonne 2022 municipal election

Now that the election has been both certified by the county and city, post-election hindsight is 20/20

Precincts colored light blue were won by Davis and those colored green were won by Ashe-Nadrowski.

The dust has settled on the peninsula and the future of Bayonne has been decided for the next four years.

Incumbent Mayor James Davis and his council slate secured a clean sweep victory in the 2022 nonpartisan municipal election, avoiding a runoff election.

Davis had declared victory on Election Night on May 10, however, the initial election results were close enough to the point where the election could go to a runoff that his main opponent City Council President Sharon Ashe-Nadrowski held off on conceding until every vote was counted.

Runoff avoided by slim margin

In order for a runoff to have happened, Davis would have needed to get less than 50 percent of the vote plus one vote. On Election Night, he was sitting at 50.81 percent of the vote to Ashe-Nadrowski’s 42.67 percent.

After provisional ballots were counted on Tuesday, May 17, Davis was certified as the winner of the election by the Hudson County Board of Elections. And on May 18, Ashe-Nadrowski conceded, noting she would remain active in the community.

The results were further confirmed when the Bayonne City Council approved a resolution at its May 18 meeting certifying the results. And now that the election has been both certified by the county and city, post-election hindsight is 20/20.

In addition to Davis and Ashe-Nadrowski, doctor and lawyer Mitchell Brown also ran for mayor in the 2022 municipal election, his second consecutive time including 2018. This time, Brown ran a relatively quiet campaign, launching it relatively late on April 18, just weeks away from May 10.

Publicly, Brown held one campaign event at The Chandelier at 1081 Broadway on April 21. He also participated in the first mayoral debate before deciding to abstain from the second alongside Ashe-Nadrowski on account of Davis not participating in the first one.

Other than that, Brown ran what he himself even called a “shoestring” campaign. And that showed; he garnered a total of 6.36 percent of the vote, or just 630 votes. Brown finished in third, and there were 13 write-in votes or .13 percent of the vote.

While Brown could be considered a spoiler candidate for Ashe-Nadrowski, even with his votes, she would only be at 48.93 percent of the vote to Davis’ 50.94 percent. However, there is also an argument to be made that if Brown had not run at all, one less voice attacking Ashe-Nadrowski could have yielded a higher voter turnout and may have brought things to a runoff.

Low turnout across the state

Speaking of voter turnout, now that every vote has been counted there’s no other way to put it. Turnout was poor this year in Bayonne.

For a fiery and contested election cycle filled with mud-slinging between candidates, including early voting, vote-by-mail ballots, and the tallies from Election Day, there were very few votes actually cast. In a city of 71,686 people per the 2020 Census, there are only 42,374 registered voters. And of those registered voters, only 9,909 voters cast their ballot for mayor, which equals an approximately 23.4 percent turnout.

After all was said and done, Davis ended at 50.94 percent, just barely avoiding a runoff by 93 votes and far from a mandate. The 2022 turnout is a drop in voter participation in comparison to Davis’ last election in 2018, which saw a three way race between him, former state assemblyman Jason O’Donnell, and Brown, attract a turnout of 32 percent of voters.

Meanwhile, in an uncontested nonpartisan municipal election in Union City, Mayor Brian Stack saw a way higher turnout despite no one challenging him for mayor. Known as a get-out-the-vote (GOTV) guru, Stack saw a turnout of 32.1 percent, an astounding feat for an uncontested May municipal election.

Back in Bayonne, one point of interest is the significant use of alternative voting methods. Of those who voted in 2022, 7.2 percent took advantage of early voting. And an even higher amount cast a vote-by-mail ballot, 15.6 percent. Combined, a total of 22.8 percent of voters cast their vote using methods other than at the polls on Election Day on May 10.

Overall, Davis’ performance was safe; it won’t earn him any rebuke from anyone within the party. Despite winning a third term, something that is not necessarily the norm with mayors in Bayonne, he hasn’t shown to be anywhere near as valuable as the GOTV king that is Stack.

Negativity and/or establishment support to blame?

One undeniable aspect of the 2022 election cycle was its negative tone, which could be seen as a contributor to the low turnout. While not as intense as past elections between say Davis and then-Mayor Mark Smith, the mud-slinging began even before anyone had declared their run for mayor.

A Super PAC based out of Washington D.C. began an attack ad campaign in 2021 dubbing the incumbent mayor as “Dirty Davis.” When both campaigns officially launched, Davis accused Ashe-Nadrowski of being behind the ads, which she denied as both attacked each over campaign donations, pay-to-play, and PACs behind them. The negativity continued until the 11th hour, with Ashe-Nadrowski accusing the incumbent mayor of launching a robocall attacking her and her family on Election Day itself.

Outside of the character assassination of each other, Ashe-Nadrowski tried to wade through the mud and focus on the issues, launching new ideas for key topics like redevelopment each week as part of her “Solution Sunday” series. Meanwhile, policy-wise Davis did not  offer any changes from the status quo outside of his pause on most major redevelopment, par the course for an incumbent running on his past record.

In addition to the negativity, Davis also enjoyed the numerous endorsements and other support from the establishment which boosted him further. While Ashe-Nadrowski saw some endorsements, from the start until the very end Davis had more than just the full backing of the Hudson County Democratic Organization, as well as local establishment organizations.

It was evident even on Election Night, where Davis celebrated with Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, Hudson County Commissioner Chairman Anthony Vainieri, Hoboken City Council President Michael Russo, and more. The backing of the highly powerful HCDO not only offered Davis logistical and monetary support, with him having outraised Ashe-Nadrowski by a considerable margin, but also could have contributed to the lower turnout given the insurmountable nature of the political machine and near hopelessness of overcoming it. Regardless, the powers that be remain unchanged.

A changing Bayonne stays on course

While the election was in some ways a vote for things to remain on the same course in Bayonne, that means that city will actually continue to change. The Davis years have marked a new era in the city that has been illustrated by not only changes in the physical landscape because of redevelopment, but also by change in the demographic makeup and thus the political representation. The city grew remarkably from the 2010 Census to the 2020 Census, with new buildings meaning new and more diverse residents flowing in to the southernmost tip of the county.

Diversity-wise, Davis continues to help the city break new barriers when it comes to representation. He famously backed longshoreman William Sampson over then-Assemblyman Nicholas Chiaravalloti in the 2021 General Election, which saw that HCDO drop him from the county line causing Chiaravalloti to drop out of the race and Sampson becoming the first Black person to represent Bayonne in the General Assembly.

The 2022 municipal election was historic because Davis-backed retired police officer Loyad Booker was elected to be the first Black member of the Bayonne City Council. While City Council President Sharon Ashe-Nadrowski will vacate her position come July after failing to become the city’s first female mayor, the council will still have one woman on the council. Newly elected Davis-backed candidate Jacqueline Weimmer won the open election for the Second Ward and will take office in the coming months after Sal Gullace opted not to run for re-election after being booted from Davis’ slate.

The race was Davis’ to lose, having made a number of political power plays in the recent past his adversaries were seeking to seer him for, and he ultimately avoided that and persevered. However, even he saw that voters wanted some change, having put a pause on redevelopment ahead of the election. Now, with the next four years in his pocket, it will be interesting to see how Bayonne will evolve even further.

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com.

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